“An American Elegy” begins as it ends. Each chord rises from the band delicately, the melody shifting from one section to another. It starts in the woodwinds until it slowly makes its way to the brass, building in sound until it becomes a dull roar.
The 10-minute orchestral piece was composed by Frank Ticheli in 2008 as a tribute to the victims of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School. On Saturday, around 40 Kenyon musicians performed the piece at the Ohio Statehouse in protest of mass gun violence. The group included Kenyon student-musicians, Professor of Music Dane Heuchemer and Muskingum University’s Professor of Music David Turrill.
Leah Dunbar ’20 organized the event as a way to give student musicians a chance to promote social change, and chose “American Elegy” because it memorializes victims of gun violence.
“I think the piece is perfect for this type of [event], it can make a really powerful statement,” Dunbar said.
The performance attracted several small crowds to the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda throughout the six-hour-long protest.
Though the room’s pastel-pink walls and black-and-white checkered floor provided a seemingly ill-fitted backdrop to the group’s more somber demonstration, this is not the first time the space has been used to protest a political issue.
In July 2017, a group of women organized a protest against an Ohio state senate bill that would restrict access to abortion procedures, according to the Statehouse News Bureau. The protesters, inspired by Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, stood silently in the Rotunda, draped in scarlet robes.
Whereas the 2017 demonstration used the impact of silence, Dunbar’s “play-in” used music’s emotionality to protest gun violence.
Though gun regulation is often viewed as a partisan issue, Dunbar believes that Saturday’s demonstration transcended partisanship.
“I think the biggest thing is that we’re not protesting for a specific measure of gun control,” Dunbar said. “We’re not playing this piece because we want bans on assault weapons. … We’re just saying that ‘this is a problem that we see and let’s look for a solution,’ so we’re not coming at it from a partisan standpoint.”
The group performed the piece in its entirety 27 times — once for every mass shooting since Columbine, with the last performance acting as a symbol for future violence.
In between each iteration of “An American Elegy,” students read aloud dedications to each mass shooting, including the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
According to Dunbar, “An American Elegy” was composed with the hope that the violence at Columbine High School would be the last of its kind in the United States. Though this hope has not been fulfilled, demonstrations like Dunbar’s still use Ticheli’s composition to promote an end to these events.